On February 22 and 23, the Arkhangelsk youth theater presented its premiere – a theater outside the theater, a six-hour-long performance-installation “North” in the space of the Sea-river station. The audience is free to enter and exit at any time, follow their own route, and stay in each location as long as they want. The main attraction of the performance is a semi-mythical Big Nerpa, the idea of which was developed by the artist Anastasia Yudina, and brought to life by the sculptor Maria Bogoraz.
Maria Bogoraz makes infernal, cyberpunk sculptures of animals made of metal or papier-mache in Rostov-on-Don. The animals that she creates are distinguished by their realism and therefore are able to evoke an anxiety or a sense of a dark fairy tale… I talked to Maria after the premiere of “North” about the meanings embedded in its objects, about the creation of the Big Nerpa and her stay in Arkhangelsk.
Anastasia: When describing your work, the adjective “gloomy” is often used. Yes, it does not correspond to the phrase “rainbow pony jumping in a meadow with flowers”, but, in my opinion, the sculptures reflect the political situation in Russia and the person in Russia today. Do you put a political connotation in your works?
Maria: I believe that people should have their own civil position, not be silent if they think something is wrong – and now there is a lot of wrong things. I would love to express my political agenda in my works, but with my fairy tale style, this is impossible. I was engaged in performance art, and there was always a political or social component. Performance is the genre in which it is appropriate. Perhaps one day I will express myself in fine art too, but for now I don ‘t consider my style with politics.
Anastasia: You are talking about performance art in the past tense. Why?
Maria: For me, sculpture has always come first. Performance serves as a way to reorient my own view, but despite its genre seriousness, for me it was easy, playful experience.
Recently in our art-centre “Makaronka” I was doing a performance at the Museum Night. For this, I made a two-meter mask that looked like the skulls of two abstract primeval animals and which was put on the heads of two naked girls sitting opposite each other. I didn’t participate in this performance. Before that, I was a member of the group “Laundry” (“Prachechnaya”), which even performed at Marat Gelman’s gallery. The girls and I took part in the performances ourselves: each had long black hair, masks and black robes – a kind of magical realism. It was interesting at that time.
Anastasia: You work with metal and leather as materials, and with papier-mache as one of the techniques. The animals you created look like they are alive, smiling at the viewer and telling their story. So, we can see very an interesting contradictory combination on the ecological topic
Maria: I like to combine the incongruous: life and cold mechanisms form dramatism in sculptures.
I had a series of works in which you can easily see the environmental message, but I did not put it there initially. In this series, animals are made of metal with mechanical inclusions, cyborgs – creatures of the future, in which animal and mechanical beginnings are mixed. It may refer to an environmental theme: soon we will all be cyborgs. Whether it will be good or bad is unknown.
Anastasia: Do you often work with leather? How do Rostov eco- activists react to this?
Maria: I use little pieces of leather and very few of it, but if I use it, it is always natural – I buy old leather raincoats in second-hand stores or at flea markets and then recycle raincoats. Natural leather is much more attractive in terms of aesthetics than artificial leather. I’m not using leather now, though. By the way, I didn’t think about environmental issues at that time – I looked at this material through the eyes of an artist.
Anastasia: How do you prepare to create your sculptures? They are strikingly natural.
Maria: I have an art education. When I was studying, I really liked to study classical anatomy – the skeleton is very concise, beautiful and will always look spectacular from an aesthetic point of view. Thanks to the Internet, you can find 3-D models of skeletons of any animals, including nerpa.
Anastasia: Speaking of the Nerpa. How did you join the team of creators of the “North”?
Maria: When the “North” project, I was still not aware of it. Nastya [Yudina] wrote to me to see if I could make a nerpa skeleton of exact size. I’ve never worked on this scale before. Of course, I was a little tense, because to make a custom- made thing that you have never done in a short time-it is responsible. I agreed, and Nastya believed in me.
Anastasia: I think this is also your first experience working with the team to create a sculpture?
Maria: Yes, I usually work with sculptures on my own. While the frame wasn’t ready, I did the head and legs alone in a small room at the sea-river station. Creating the spine and ribs is a very monotonous job, involving typing and mashing layers. Of course, this work needed more people to finish the Nerpa on time. Theatre actress Olga Khalchenko gathered volunteers and helped me. Even people who are not connected to the theatre came to help us.
Anastasia: How did you feel in a completely new space, tight deadlines, large size of Nerpa and with a team of volunteers? Besides, you don ‘t really like to work with orders.
Maria: It was a stressful situation to work in an unfamiliar city with people, and they are a little different, different from Rostov residents… I also thought that people were being forced to help me, and that made me feel uncomfortable. It turned out that many people did their work with enthusiasm and were very involved in the process.
Anastasia: What did you see as the difference between Arkhangelsk and Rostov residents?
Maria: Rostov residents are assertive and expressive, but you are meek and responsive. I am not sure that in Rostov people would come from the street just to help. It would be interesting to set up such an experiment in Rostov and monitor people’s reaction. It seems to me that Rostov residents would not help. The desire of people to help in Arkhangelsk was very pleasant.
Anastasia: If you have the opportunity to repeat such an experiment, will you take the job?
Maria: At first, I was very tired, but time has passed, I can calmly look at the result and not be so picky about it. Yes, I think it’s interesting to work with sizes like that. Especially now I realized that this is not so terrible. Looking at the photos, I’m pleased with work.
Anastasia: I’m afraid that during your month in Arkhangelsk, you didn’t have time to get acquainted with the city itself, except for the area around the sea-river station and the winter view of the river?
Maria: That’s true. I lived on the Voskresenskaya street and went to the station thorugh the pedestrian street Chumbarovka, which is considered to be beautiful. But I didn’t go anywhere else. There was an opportunity the day before I left, but I was so tired that I didn’t have the power to move. I am very sorry that I could not go to Maly Korely – everyone said that it is necessary to visit it. In general, I like the North and the Northern nature. And I noticed that the sky in Arkhangelsk is something different: beautiful, with unusual colours and light.
Photos and videos provided by Maria Bogoraz.